1. Yesterday I read this comment from a friend:
This reminds me of the conclusion many of us have faced: that it's impossible to be a rock star career woman while being a rock star mom.
"If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one - Russian Proverb"2. And today, this correspondence in Nature. It's short, but the shorter summary is this: There's no gender bias in science, and if there is, it's because women are busy having babies.
Let's start with the first, shall we?
No, it is not impossible to be a rock star career woman and rock star mom.
I think this is a false dichotomy that gets fed to women. It isn't about choosing one over the other, but finding a career, and a way of parenting, that lets you succeed at both. That doesn't mean it is easy, or that it is the right choice for everyone. It may also mean acknowledging that cultural expectations of rockstar parenting (especially for mothers) are unrealistic, and that you may never reach global rockstar scientist status, even if you put every waking moment into it.
In my mind, being a rockstar parent is not about making all the cutesy kid activities, but spending real time with my daughter. I see plenty of stay-at-home parents who spend less time actually interacting with their children than I do (granted, there are others who truly take advantage of the opportunity). I answer questions, we explore and play together. My daughter comes before work. Sometimes that means a lot of work happens after hours, but it means that the time we spend together is quality time.
There are scientists who do half the work I do, without family obligations, pissing away the day chatting to everyone, and bypassing opportunities that come up. Am I as social as everyone in the lab? No, but that isn't what being a rockstar scientist is about - it's about doing good research and getting it out. Could I publish more if I weren't a parent? I don't know. I've published more as a postdoc, with a child, than I did before my daughter was born. I've been lucky to get independent funding for my research, and even gotten some publicity for my research. For me there are only so many hours I can be productive in a row, which means that dividing up my working time into different sections of my day is how I'd work with or without a child.
Fewer women because babies
And then we have half-witted comments like the "correspondence" Nature editors thought would be a good idea to publish. It's hard not to quote the whole thing, but here's one section, by Lukas Koube:
So, women are too busy babying (y'know, because those are the only people who raise offspring these days), to be productive, ergo, there really is no gender inequity in science. Never mind all the women who don't have children, or those of us who manage to do both. And never mind the research that shows female applicants are ranked lower than equally qualified male applicants. And never mind that letters of recommendation are implicitly biased against female applicants. Let's just say that my conclusion was that this comment was printed because one of the editors wanted to say it, but wanted someone else to get the blame for saying it.
Every time I see someone post about how we have to choose between being good scientists and being good parents, or suggesting that we can blame those lazy women for gender inequality because they're too busy babying, I feel my chest tighten, and I just want to scream: "So what the hell am I? Do you think I'm a failure as a scientist? Do you think I am a terrible parent? Am I not productive enough for you? Am I not doting enough for you?"
If we identify aspects that make sciencing while parenting challenging, let's address these, support each other, and develop policies to help people do both well. And why so much judgement instead of just observing that, miraculously, parents, even women, have been able to science good, and parent good. At the same time.